Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Mother Courage

I paid a visit to my dear friend Phyllis this afternoon. She has often appeared in these pages as 'The Other Voice Teacher', but since many of you have divined her identity, we will stick to Phyllis.

She is at home again after what I have called 'The Winter of her Discontent.' Numerous hospital stays followed by days in rehab facilities. Nobody's fun and games.

Through it all she always comes up smiling and back to her bright, intense self.

Today, having briefly discussed her health problems, she wanted to get down to our usual business of talking about singers and singing.

One of my students, a young soprano, is preparing two senior recitals; one for this fall and one for the spring. We have been going over a variety of songs and arias that she may decide to program

Phyllis and I lamented the fact that these days, the Lieder recital has become as extinct as Tyrannosaurus Rex. Outside of a college campus, nobody sings this kind of program anymore. A young singer wishing to follow a career as a classical singer, has almost no other option than to go into it through the world of opera.

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In the days of 'Community Concerts' (my youth), singers and every other sort of musician came to Battle Creek Michigan and performed at the Kellogg Auditorium. The cost of a season ticket was $5.00. Phyllis said in those days she would sing sixty song recitals a season, in addition to her appearances with various international opera companies.

When I came to New York City in 1950, every weekend I would get free passes for Town Hall concerts from the Music Office at Columbia University. I heard singers, pianists, violinists, you name it, sometime three concerts in a weekend. And the singers sang SONGS.

Well, Community Concerts and Town Hall have gone the way of the Dodo and, these days, a young singer has almost no place to sing the song repertoire.

With all of my serious young singers, I have them work on the song literature in various languages from various musical eras. But I also have them learn operatic arias.

If they expect to have a career in classical music, for better or worse, this is the route that is open to them.

We both lamented this is the way the world of music has gone, but determined that young singers need to be prepared to sing opera if they expect to have a career.

Sometimes, when they become famous, a few of them will do 'Song Recitals' and, because of their fame and reputation, actually get an audience to come hear them. Lorraine Hunt Lieberson, while she was working with me, did song recitals here and in Europe. She had made her name in opera first. She always sang to a packed house. Several of her song recitals are available on CDs.

I will continue to give my students a varied diet of songs but will lace it with operatic arias. You need to do what you have to do. The important thing is to sing!